The L word and Israel

February 14, 2014 by

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Image by Neil Mercer

I would like to talk about the L word.


It is a word that went out of fashion many moons ago for many people, but it still lives in our relationships. 

Loyalty has rules of its own. 

If I am a loyal friend to Jack, and he is going through an acrimonious divorce, I must not hang out with the spouse he is in the process of divorcing. Even if during their marriage I’d become friends with the spouse too.

More than that, Jack will probably be upset with me even if I hang out with a friend of his soon-to-be ex. It’s just not done. It’s not how you “do” loyalty. There is an unwritten law of “treacherous infection”: If the enemy is out of bounds, then so is her friend. 

Loyalty doesn’t have to be mute. If I think that Jack has behaved dreadfully, and is at fault for the divorce, I may choose to tell him so. Sometimes loyalty demands that I critique, disagree, push Jack to be better. But as his friend I’ll not rat him out to his ex. 

It’s not easy. Loyalty is a way of behaving towards the people or the group with which I identify so much I am willing to put myself in occasional discomfort for their good.

We’re not all that practiced at articulating loyalty. I imagine that many would argue that this is because the unwritten rules of loyal behavior come from the guts. They are difficult to explain or to rationalize for someone outside the relationship. 

Hence the difficulty so many Jewish organizations are having in creating guidelines or red lines for Israel programming. They are, at root, attempting to define what constitutes loyal behavior towards Israel. 

Yet these guidelines are aimed to guide people who a) are not particularly comfortable with the ins and outs of loyal behavior, and b) do not necessarily see themselves as loyal to Israel in the first place. This does not mean they are enemies to Israel: They have simply not (yet) declared their loyalty. 

Faced with such a fundamental mis-match between the guidelines and the guided, Jewish institutions must explore three questions in as open and inclusive way as possible:

  1. Of what does loyal behavior towards Israel consist?
  2. Should it be the role of the institution to inculcate loyalty to Israel?
  3. How does one inculcate loyalty?

Whatever answers are reached, one conclusion is clear. Loyalty is an expression of identity and identification. If I am loyal to Israel – no matter how I define what loyal behavior is – that is because Israel is a significant part of my identity. As such the creation of Israel programming guidelines throughout the Jewish world is not just a political question: It is first and foremost an educational issue. 

It is Makom’s commitment to working through this educational issue of loyalty – what it means to be loyal to Israel, what are the ways we should “give voice” to our loyal critique of Israel, how loyalty might be acquired through choice, and whether it should – that makes my job such fun…


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